More than 80 years ago, the first-ever McDonald’s opened up shop in San Bernardino, CA. Its mission, at the time, was to wow people with two things: speed and low prices. Customers could have a hamburger in their hand in just a few minutes, and it would only cost them around 15 cents (less than half a gallon of milk at the time). We know now that this was the dawn of a booming fast-food industry.

Today, McDonald’s has locations in more than 100 countries, and it also has stiff competition from chains like Burger King and KFC. But is the former pioneer of the fast-food industry keeping up with changing attitudes around diet today? 

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The words “flexitarian,” “plant-based,” or “vegan” weren’t widely in use when McDonald’s flung open its doors in the 1940s. But now, more people than ever are cutting down on animal products. In fact, one study last year estimated that over half of young Americans now consume more plant-based meals than meat-based ones. 

From fries that contain milk to zero veggie burger options, it’s safe to say there is work to be done at McDonald’s. But it’s not totally impossible to avoid animal products at the world’s biggest fast-food chain. Here’s how to eat vegan at McDonald’s in the US, as well as an overview of some of the chain’s popular plant-based options overseas.

The McPlant burger

There was a time when you could find a vegan-friendly burger at McDonald’s—but only if you lived near one of the eight test locations sprinkled across Texas, Iowa, Louisiana, and Southern California. At its height, the chain’s vegan-friendly burger—dubbed the McPlant—was served in 600 restaurants from February to August of 2022 as a test for future markets.

Due to slow sales, the burger was not greenlit for a nationwide expansion plan, forcing plant-based patrons to get scrappy when it came to ordering.

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The burger, which features a Beyond Meat plant-based patty, is available in a number of markets around the world. It’s a permanent menu item in the UK, for example, as well as Germany and Portugal. In some markets, the burger is certified vegan, but in others, it is served with dairy cheese and mayonnaise (but it can be ordered without).

The US McPlant trial didn’t experience the same success as other countries. This is the opposite of rival Burger King, which announced the successful nationwide launch of its plant-based Impossible Whopper in 2019.

Some have speculated that the McDonald’s McPlant trial was hindered by the fact that many of the chain’s participating US locations were in rural areas, where plant-based options aren’t as popular. However, the fast-food giant itself hasn’t commented on the trial results. It also hasn’t announced any plans for further trials or a nationwide launch.

Vegan fast-food items that have come and gone

America’s short-lived McPlant is not the only plant-based menu item we’ve seen cycle through a fast-food chain in the blink of an eye, many plant-based alternatives have failed to stand up to the test.

Panda Express pulled its Beyond Orange Chicken, for example, which was first launched in 2021, before it was expanded to 2,300 US restaurants in September 2022. The limited-time offering has now run its course and will not be restocked for the foreseeable future.

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In July 2020, El Pollo Loco rolled out its vegan Chickenless Pollo. Unlike other chains, El Pollo Loco made its own product in lieu of reaching out to an established plant-based meat company. The soy-based pollo was discontinued a few months later.

KFC also teased us with a short-lived vegan chicken item. Following a series of in-market tests that began as far back as 2019, the Beyond Meat-based vegan chicken rolled out to 4,000 US locations in January 2022. Like other plant-based items that were limited to a finite amount of time, Beyond Fried Chicken was removed quietly and without any indication of a future return.

Are McDonald’s fries vegan?

Fries are a go-to when eating fast food for most people. If there is nothing else on the menu, you can be pretty safe with an order of fries and perhaps a side salad. But not at McDonald’s. The chain’s World Famous Fries are seasoned with beef flavoring, which doesn’t contain any actual meat, but it does contain milk (go figure).

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In many other countries, McDonald’s fries are vegan, so it’s worth double-checking if you’re traveling abroad. In the UK, for example, the menu item is certified as vegan by The Vegetarian Society. Several petitions have been set up urging the chain to follow suit in the US, but as of yet, there is no indication that the recipe will be changed. But, if you’re craving fast-food fries, a number of chains offer vegan French fries.

McDonald’s vegan breakfast

There may be no burger and no fries, but is there at least a McDonald’s vegan breakfast? Again, the options are limited. If you’re happy with a plain English muffin, you’re in luck. But there isn’t much else. The hash browns are cooked with the same beef flavoring as the fries (which contains milk), and the oatmeal is made with dairy cream. 

If you’re in the market for black coffee or orange juice, these drink options are vegan. But note, there are no plant-based milk options. 

In the UK, McDonald’s hash browns and its new Mini Potato Waffles are vegan. In Hong Kong, customers can order vegan “SPAM” (made with OmniPork Luncheon plant-based meat) on the breakfast menu, although all of the options are served with eggs. The chain does offer dairy-free lattes made with Oatly, however. And Australian customers can also order oat milk with their coffee in McCafé locations.

RELATED: Fast Food Gets a Vegan Makeover at These 12 Plant-Based Restaurant Chains

McDonald’s vegan options

Though they are limited, McDonald’s has a handful of other vegan options on US menu. Here are a few of the menu items available to US patrons.

1 Burgers

Okay, as established, there is currently no vegan or even veggie burger option at McDonald’s in the US. But if you are really desperate, you could create something relatively substantial by making a few alterations. The burger buns are vegan, so one option is to order a regular Big Mac, request to remove the beef patty, cheese, and Big Mac sauce, add in one of the vegan condiments from above, and double up on the lettuce, onion, and pickles.

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2 Sides

Fries are a no-go, but if you’ve got kids in the back of the car, you could grab a pack of Apple Slices for them to snack on. (Or just munch on them yourself!)

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3
Desserts

Customers in Germany were treated to a vegan KitKat McFlurry option in 2022, but in the US, no such menu item has appeared yet. But while most of the dessert menu is dominated by dairy, there is one option vegans can enjoy: the Baked Apple Pie, which features a hot apple filling, lattice crust, and sprinkling of sugar.

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4 Condiments

Without French fries or sandwiches, we’re not quite sure what to put sauces on, but it’s always good to know what’s vegan. Along with the standard ketchup and mustard, the Tangy Barbeque and Sweet ‘N Sour dipping sauces are free from animals. Our tip to you: take these sauces home and enjoy them with your favorite vegan nuggets.

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5 Soft drinks

If you’re just grabbing a quick beverage at McDonald’s, you’ll have a fair amount of choice, as most of its soft drink options, like Coca-Cola, Sprite, Dr Pepper, and sweet tea, are, of course, vegan. You could also try a Hi-C Orange Lavaburst. The fruity soda used to be a staple on the McDonald’s menu before it was discontinued a few years ago. Now, the chain has brought it back. Orange juice and apple juice cartons are also available.

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6 Coffee

As there is no plant-based milk on offer, coffee options are limited. However, if you’re just stopping by for a quick caffeine hit, you can grab an Americano (black, of course), or a cup of its Premium Roast Coffee.

Mr. Charlie’s and other vegan burger restaurants

There’s no getting away from it, the vegan options on McDonald’s US menu are pretty poor. But thankfully, the fast-food giant is not the only chain to sell burgers.

One restaurant chain called Mr. Charlie’s—which has locations in Los Angeles, Venice, and San Francisco, CA as well as an outpost in Sydney, Australia—even offers a copycat McDonald’s menu, but the twist is, everything is vegan. Find out more about the plant-based fast-food concept below, as well as the many other restaurants that can also give you a vegan burger fix.

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1 Mr. Charlie’s

Mr. Charlie’s is out to make the world of fast food a better place. Not only does it offer a wealth of plant-based variety, it also supports unhoused and formerly incarcerated people with employment in its Los Angeles restaurant. Its menu includes options like the Not a Cheeseburger, which features an Impossible burger and vegan cheese, as well as British Fries and Not Chicken Nuggets.
Find it here

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2 Plant Power Fast Food

California vegan chain Plant Power Fast Food has soared in popularity since its launch back in 2016. Its success comes down to the amount of choice on offer, like its vegan takes on McDonald’s most iconic options. There’s the Big Zac (a plant-based version of the Big Mac), for example, as well as vegan egg-and-cheese muffins and vegan sausage-and-cheese croissants.
find it here

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3 Slutty Vegan

Celebrity favorite Slutty Vegan started with a food truck in 2018, but very quickly, its popularity soared. In 2019, founder Pinky Cole Hayes opened an Atlanta brick-and-mortar spot to queues around the block. Today, the plant-based chain is still growing consistently. Its popular menu items includes burgers like the One Night Stand, which is loaded with vegan bacon, cheese, and the chain’s own Slut Sauce.
find it here

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4 Next Level Burger 

In 2014, Cierra and Matt de Gruyter decided to fill the gaping plant-based hole in the fast-food market and created what they claim was America’s first-ever vegan burger joint. With 10 locations now and a recent $20 million investment under its belt, the chain—which recently acquired Veggie Grill—is going from strength to strength. As well as vegan shakes, fries, and salads, the menu includes the American Chzburger, the Ghost Pepper Popper Burger, and the Chik’n Bacon Ranch Burger.
find it here

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5 Burgerlords

Since 2015, Burgerlords has been treating customers to its classic California-style burgers, only without the meat. It used to be totally vegan, but now the chain is just vegan-friendly, as it started to offer meat again in 2023. The menu still offers vegan burgers, including a Vegan Cheeseburger and a Double Vegan Cheeseburger. 
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6 PLNT Burger

Founded by Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn, PLNT Burger has 16 locations across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, many of which are located inside Whole Foods Market stores. The chain prides itself on creating “chef-crafted American classics for our future,” and the menu includes its signature PLNT Burger, as well as a Mushroom BBQ Bacon Burger, a Steakhouse Burger, and a fish-style Save The Bay Fillet.
find it here

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7 Monty’s Good Burger

Social media favorite Monty’s Good Burger has been going since 2018. It has risen in popularity partly because of its large social following and celebrity fans (Joaquin Phoenix celebrated his 2020 Oscar win with a trip to the plant-based food joint, for example), but it would arguably be nothing without good food, which it has in spades. There’s the signature Monty’s Good Burger, of course, which comes with an Impossible Foods patty and Follow Your Heart vegan cheese, but there are also vegan chicken tenders, Charlie’s Chicken Sandwich (with hand-breaded plant-based chicken), and a wide variety of shakes and floats.
find it here

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